FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) --More than one-third of all Americans report being affected by knee pain. Knee replacement surgery can offer relief, but the implants only last between 12 and 15 years. Patients under the age of 40 aren't usually considered good candidates for the procedure because they would need too many revision operations. Now there's a simple surgery that's saving knees in younger patients.
Today, nurse Kirstin Kent can walk, climb, and lift without a problem. A year ago, severe knee pain prevented her from doing her job.
Kent told Ivanhoe, "I would go and sit in my office, and I wouldn't get up much. I kept telling people I'm not lazy, I'm just in too much pain to get up and move."
An injury that happened when she was a teen caused a loss of cartilage in her thirties.
"It was just that deep bone pain, like grinding, like bone on bone," described Kent.
She tried drugs, therapy, injections and even had her knee re-aligned. Doctors told her a knee replacement could offer lasting relief, but she was too young.
"Honestly, a part of me was like well, why don't we just amputate it above my knee," said Kent.
Then Rush University surgeon Brian Cole, M.D., told her about an option called an osteochondral allograft transplant. It involves transplanting cartilage and bone from a deceased donor.
"The same donor who has heart and liver and lung donation at the time of death also donates parts such as cartilage," Dr. Cole told Ivanhoe.
Surgeons make a small incision in the knee and remove the patient's damaged cartilage and bone. Then, they replace it with the new donor tissue.
"It's almost like if you were missing a tile on your shower or tub, and you replace that tile with a healthier, or new, piece of tile," explained Dr. Cole.
Kent had to wait several months for a donor. But today, she's pain-free.
Kent said, "It's just a miracle. I don't have any pain any more, and I never thought that I would see this day."
Patients don't have to take anti-rejection drugs because the body doesn't see the transplanted cartilage tissue as foreign. Kent's allograft procedure is expected to last at least 10 years. The closer she gets to 50, the better her chances of being considered a good candidate for knee replacement surgery. This procedure is only for patients with certain types of knee arthritis that is relatively well localized to a specific area of the knee.
Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Julie Marks, Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, Assistant Producer; Tony D'Astoli, Editor.